Background to the Drought Research Initiative (DRI)

The occurrence and evolution of drought over various regions is a ubiquitous feature of the global water cycle. Such an extreme does not necessarily lead to an overall change in the magnitude of the global water cycle but it of course affects the regional cycling of water. Droughts are recurring aspects of weather and climate extremes as are floods and tornadoes, but they differ substantially since they have long durations and lack easily identified onsets and terminations.

Drought is a relatively common feature of the North American and Canadian climate system and all regions of the continent are affected from time-to-time. However, it tends to be most common and severe over the central regions of the continent. The Canadian Prairies are therefore prone to drought and one example is the recent one that began in 1999. This drought ended in 2004/05.

Because of the enormous economic, environmental and societal impacts, the Drought Research Initiative (DRI) was established in 2005 to coordinate and integrate drought research in Canada. Given the importance of this extreme form of weather, it is critical that it be studied appropriately with the hope being that its occurrence and nature can be better anticipated on short and long term scales.

The Drought Research Initiative (DRI) is a research network that brings together many university and federal/provincial government researchers to address this issue with expertise encompassing the atmospheric, hydrologic, land surface, and predictive aspects of droughts at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

To make progress on this critical issue, DRI is focusing on the recent drought over the Prairies. It has been suggested that this was Canada’s worst natural disaster.

DRI was initiated in late 2005 and was to continue until the end of 2010. It was extended until April 2011 to allow time for completing some of its activities. The funding for DRI is mainly through the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.